Asia's ten-team lineup in the final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ will be complete this Sunday when the third round of competition goes down to the wire, with two pairs of West Asian rivals battling it out for the two remaining places.
Asian champions Iraq lock horns with Qatar in Dubai, knowing that a point against their Gulf rivals will see them through. The United Arab Emirates, three points clear of Syria in the Group 5 standings, are set to progress as long as they can avoid losing the closing fixture by three clear goals.
The last outings, however, will be mere routine for the eight already eliminated teams, who have little to play for but pride. At the same time, the 'dead rubbers' will not be taken lightly by the eight qualified sides, who will be hoping to round off their campaign with a bang.
Matchday 6 fixtures
Group 1: Australia-China, Iraq-Qatar;
Group 2: Japan-Bahrain, Oman-Thailand;
Group 3: Korea Republic-Korea DPR, Jordan-Turkmenistan;
Group 4: Saudi Arabia-Uzbekistan, Lebanon-Singapore;
Group 5: Iran-Kuwait, United Arab Emirates-Syria
Group 1: Iraq aim to progress in style
Iraq-Qatar, Dubai, 22 June, 20:00 (local time)
Despite registering just a point from their three opening matches, reigning Asian champions Iraq proved their quality as they bounced back with two consecutive wins over Australia and China, results which moved them into second place in the section, ahead of Qatar on goal difference. With the team's spirit sky high, coach Adnan Hamad is targeting progression with a resounding win. "A draw is not what we are thinking about, although we can go through with a point," he said. "We want to take the three points on Sunday and we will do it."
Hamad's confidence, however, does little to daunt his opposite number, Qatar coach Jorge Fossati, who is expecting his charges to emulate their 2-0 triumph over Iraq in the first leg. "Our hopes are still alive, and if we beat Iraq we will advance to last ten," said the 55-year-old former Uruguay national team manager. Qatar lost the crucial penultimate game to Australia 3-1, and Fossati warned his players that the lessons must be well learned, if they are to qualify for the next stage. "Hopefully, we will have learned from our mistakes and we won't make those mistakes against Iraq. I am confident we will have the last laugh."
Group 5: Metsu warns UAE against complacency
UAE-Syria, Al Ain City, 22 June, 20:00 (local time)
Syria may still have hope, but coach Bruno Metsu's UAE must feel full of confidence when they play hosts to the Syrians on Sunday. UAE carved out a 3-2 victory against Kuwait in the last match to move three points clear of Syria, who lost 2-0 at the hands of Iran. To topple their rivals, Syria will have to win by at least three clear goals. Their three-point cushion and superior scoring tally aside, UAE can draw further inspiration from history: they have not lost a single game at home to Syria since 1979.
While few question UAE's chances of progressing, the experienced Metsu, who guided Senegal to Korea/Japan 2002, warned his players not to get complacent. "We have nearly secured our qualification, but we must prepare very well for Syria. We can afford no slip-up."